13 March 2013

Natural History Sketches: Skunk

One night after teaching letterpress in Halifax I was driving home on our rural highway and had to stop and let a skunk (Mephitis mephitis -- striped skunk) cross the road. It's not uncommon for skunks to be out in the dark hours (porcupines and raccoons are also very common, so I tend to drive slower than most people do in the dark on that road).

What was interesting, though, it that this particular skunk has such wide stripes that it was more white than black. It was so pale I even wondered if my "knowledge" that skunks don't change colour in the winter might be wrong.

Well, skunks don't change colour (like hares do), but it turns out it's actually not that unusual for striped skunks to be nearly white. A quite look through Google images showed that while the usual black and white pattern was the most common, a lot of skunks have stripes either thicker or narrower than the norm, so they vary from nearly all white to nearly all black. There's also a fairly rare paler colour phase in which the usually black parts of the animal are a pale brown.

Anyway, the next day I attempted to remember what I saw well enough to sketch it.

Image © Niko Silvester. Please do not use without permission. Thanks!

12 March 2013

Natural History Sketches: Shrew and Mouse

I live in a rural area in a somewhat unfinished house that hasn't been maintained as well as it might have been. Consequently, we have mice in the walls. They're actually quite lovely little creatures: deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). They're also native to Nova Scotia, so I feel a bit bad setting traps for them, even when they get cheeky enough to watch me from the top of a bookcase.

Every now and then my cat, who never goes outside, will catch one. Usually somewhere in the still-dark hours of the early morning. Then she lets them go in the bedroom, which has a sill on the door, so they run around and around the room while she chases them. Eventually she gets bored and they escape, or they go into shock so I have to scoop them up in the morning and release them into the woods. Every now and then she actually kills one.

(I know, I am a monster for not intervening. But at three a.m. I am pretty much a zombie and capable only of groaning and burying my head under the pillow.)

Once, I discovered the tiny body in the morning and instead of a mouse, it was a shrew (probably a masked shrew, Sorex cinereus). I still don't know how it ended up inside, because as far as I can tell, shrews are not usually house-dwellers. I can only guess that perhaps it got lost in the tunnels under the snow (there was a lot of snow on the ground at the time) and followed a mouse hole, or the dryer vent, into the house. Only to be captured by a housecat.

Shrews, if you're not up on your mammalian classification, are not rodents (which, of course, mice are). Though they do resemble mice somewhat, they're actually more closely related to moles. Masked shrews are very, very tiny. Even smaller than deer mice. Sadly, this dead little beast is the only shrew I've actually seen (though I did spy a living vole -- a mouse-like rodent -- a couple of times in one of our rock walls).

Image © Niko Silvester. Please do not use without permission. Thanks!

11 March 2013

Natural History Sketches: Squirrels

You can tell what I think of these drawings in the comment I wrote next to them. Oh well. One of the points of keeping this journal is to get more drawing practice, which will -- I certainly hope -- help me improve.

North American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

These little guys are almost unbearably cute, but they're also accomplished thieves. Unless you buy special (rather pricey) bird feeders, they'll steal all the seeds. Fortunately, they're not too bad most of the year, and most of our birds aren't bothered by them (and we only have two regulars). I once saw a crow chase a red squirrel away when it got too close.They do get very gluttonous in the winter when they're stockpiling, and they'll leave the seed pile with their cheeks stuffed so full their heads look two or three times normal size.

In some parts of Canada, red squirrels have been driven out by invasive grey squirrels, but that hasn't happened here in NS (at least, not yet).

All images © Niko Silvester. Please don't use them without permission. Thanks!

10 March 2013

Natural History Sketches: Pheasant

It seems it's been a while since I posted. I guess I'm not doing so well on my New Year's resolutions. Oh well. Here are some of the sketches from my big giant natural history notebook (which I also haven't been keeping up with as much as I'd like).

Pheasants (Ring-necked or Common Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus)

These lovely, big birds aren't native to Nova Scotia, and were actually introduced a number of times by people wanting to establish them as game birds. They're still relatively uncommon over a lot of the province, but somewhat common where I live. I've actually seen six or more birds, male and female, foraging together in the same field, but more often I'll see one on its own -- usually a male, as the females are much better camouflaged and therefore harder to spot.

There used to be one male that regularly came for the seeds we put out every day, but he hasn't been around for a year or two (or else he waits until no one's looking). Here he is in 2010.

All images © Niko Silvester. Please don't use them without permission. Thanks.